My E-mail Experiment: An Update

Two weeks ago, I began my recovery from e-mail addiction. Based on Tim Ferriss’s advice, I decided that I would set my e-mail program to work in offline mode. I purposed to check e-mail only twice a day—once in the middle of the workday and once at the end.

Lab Experiment

Since then, several people have written to ask how my little experiment is going. Several have also joined me in this adventure.

Let me begin by saying that this has been more difficult than I anticipated. Way more. The only thing I can compare it to is fasting. You don’t think about food much until you decide to go on a fast. Suddenly, all you can think about is food!

Going cold turkey on e-mail has been similar. I never realized how addicted I really was until I decided to change my routine. Unconsciously, I find myself reaching for my Blackberry. At my desk, just when I really begin thinking, I suddenly have the urge to check my e-mail. It has taken all the will-power I can muster to resist these temptations.

And—I have to be honest—I have fallen down several times. But, by the grace of God, I keep getting up. So far, I am staying with the plan.

The good news is that I have been unbelievably productive. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you don’t have the constant distraction of pinging e-mail. I have left the office almost every day with an empty inbox. And, I have made major progress on several projects that had languished on my to-do list. I have also found myself thinking more clearly than ever.

I have also discovered that I am much more efficient in processing e-mail. When that is all I am doing, I can work really, really fast. I am still observing David Allen’s “two-minute rule” from Getting Things Done. (This rule basically says that you immediately act on anything in your inbox that can be done in two minutes or less. If a task is going to take longer than two minutes, you put it on the appropriate to-do list.) But, all in all, I have found that I can blow through 40-50 messages in 30 minutes. By doing this twice a day, I am spending no more than an hour a day on e-mail. This is a major improvement from life-before-recovery.

I am the most tempted to regress to my old habits early in the morning. That’s when I feel the tractor-pull of my inbox the most. But, when I resist, I find that I can complete a couple of my major priorities for the day—before I ever get to the office. This is a great feeling. Hopefully, as I keep resisting the temptation, the temptation will wear off. That will be sweet indeed.

So, that’s my progress report. I am pleased with how I am doing so far. If you are also trying this experiment, please share your comments below. Maybe I’ll start a 12-step support group!

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